Saturday, July 23, 2011

Excursion to Utrecht

From Loosdrecht, our cousins took us on an excursion to Utrecht, a fascinating mixture of old and new. It is a university town, canal town, and industrial town. But Utrecht is much more than a "town"; according to the city's official Web site, it is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, with a population of over 300,000. But you would never sense that from a visit to the old center of town.

Construction at Shopping Center

We arrived in Utrecht through the parking garage interconnected with a large shopping mall and the bus and train stations  --  an example of Dutch practicality. Construction near the shopping center apparently entails a plan to redesign this area, which will uncover some of the old canals that have been filled in. A walk from the parking garage to the Oude Gracht (Old Canal) is like a walk back in time, 400 years ago to Holland's Golden Age.

Canal-side cafe

View from canal boat
 What is distinctive about Utrecht's old center is that the canals lie at basement level, not street level. Our cousins treated us to "broodjes" (sandwich rolls) at a street-side stand, coffee at a canal-side cafe, and a boat tour along the canals. From the canal boat we could peer into the dark interiors of the former storage cellars of 17th century merchants, many now converted into cafes, restaurants, and bars. Here and there, carvings on the building facades hinted at what goods may have been stored there a few centuries ago.



Domtoren from canal boat
From the boat we could also see the Domkerk, the city's cathedral, with its bell tower, the highest in the Netherlands. It is said that on a clear day, you can see Amsterdam and Rotterdam from the top. With my acrophobia, I'll take their word for it! There was much we didn't have time to see: the Centraal Museum, the museum of carillon clocks and music boxes, and the Dick Bruna House (creator of Miffy the Rabbit, a popular children's book series). Just all the more reason to go back to Utrecht another time.


Feeding the ducks along the canal in Utrecht

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